The History Boys

Alan Bennett
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment DVD
(2007)

The History Boys has been one of the biggest success stories of British Theatre in recent years. Alan Bennett's play was refined by Nick Hytner for an unforgettable production at the National Theatre and the rest as they say, has been history.

It progressed around the world, proving to be big hit on Broadway despite its unlikely subject matter, has toured in the UK and recently made its West End debut. In addition, the original creative team, almost complete, converted it into a lauded movie.

The film is much shorter than the play and in some ways, less intricate and satisfying. Several plot lines have disappeared and others are simplified in an effort to make it more user-friendly for what one might be tempted to regard as a less sophisticated audience.

Having said that, the film is still a real pleasure to watch and, in some ways, it outdoes the play. In particular, this version provides an opportunity to see some close-up acting skills from the likes of Richard Griffiths and Frances de la Tour, as well as the eight (in some cases not so) young actors who play the schoolboys.

The play has been reviewed on BTG many times over in different formats and from different places so it is probably not necessary to go into too much detail about the plot.

This is the story of a group of grammar-school boys who enter an Oxbridge class in the 1980s. There, they are subject to the different educational programmes and series of three teachers.

Richard Griffiths is magnificent yet again as Hector, the fumbling teacher with a love of words whose view of education is Romantic, that it should be there for its own sake as much as for what it might achieve directly.

His antithesis is Steven Campbell Moore's young rookie Irwin, a fraud in the Thatcherite years when fraud was almost a positive and a man who talks a good game and believes in results to the exclusion of everything else.

This appeals to a dottier than ever headmaster, played by Clive Merrison. In keeping with the times, he thinks that achievement can be measured exclusively by league-tables rather than knowledge or happiness.

Finally, there is the mildly feminist Mrs Lintott (Frances de la Tour) who has her head screwed on better than the others but nevertheless has a great line in dry wit.

Much of the humour of the play transfers well on to film but so does the pathos and, by the end, one really identifies with the strengths and weaknesses of both teachers and pupils, of whom Samuel Barnett playing sensitive Posner, Dominic Cooper's much-desired Dakin and Russell Tovey as thick Rudge are the pick.

The film version of The History Boys should not be regarded as a substitute for seeing the play on stage but it is a great testament to the wonderful writing of Alan Bennett and direction of Nick Hytner and is strongly recommended.

The DVD also contains a number of worthwhile extras, including a film of the world tour, interviews with the actors and a full length commentary shared between Messrs Bennett and Hytner.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher